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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Flood rescuers press on in southern Ukraine after dam disaster

Flooding in Kherson, Ukraine, on Tuesday.

By Andrew E. Kramer, Paul Sonne and Victoria Kim

Hundreds of exhausted people, some carrying only backpacks, escaped inundated villages Wednesday as a rescue effort pressed ahead across southern Ukraine, a day after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam gave rise to another humanitarian disaster along the front lines of the 15-month war.

Floodwaters engulfed streets and homes, sent residents fleeing on boats and dislodged roofs across dozens of communities on both sides of the Dnieper River, which divides the warring armies in much of southern Ukraine. A total of about 3,000 people had been evacuated in Russian- and Ukrainian-controlled areas, according to officials on both sides — a fraction of the roughly 41,000 residents whom Ukrainian officials have said are at risk.

There were still no confirmed reports of deaths, and the scale of the disaster, which drained a giant reservoir used for drinking water and irrigation, was only beginning to come into focus. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said that hundreds of thousands of people were “without normal access to drinking water” and that the emergency services were working to rush potable water to Ukrainian-controlled areas.

Even as officials said floodwaters were receding in areas closest to the dam, its destruction has spread further misery on both sides of the Dnieper.

In the Ukrainian-held city of Kherson on the west bank, rescuers completely evacuated a neighborhood submerged in fetid floodwaters, venturing out in boats to pull people from roofs and the upper floors of homes. Information about areas in the Russian-occupied east bank was difficult to obtain, but state television broadcast images of inundated villages and Russian-appointed officials said about 1,500 people had been evacuated.

Experts said a deliberate explosion inside the dam, which has been under Russian control since early in the war, most likely caused the massive structure of steel-reinforced concrete to crumble. Zelenskyy said Russian forces had blown up the dam to “use the flood as a weapon,” while Russian officials blamed Ukrainian shelling for damaging the facility.

Ukraine’s agriculture ministry warned that the disaster would cut off water to hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, turning some of the country’s most productive crop fields “into deserts as early as next year.”

The dam’s destruction could also risk diverting attention, resources and personnel from a long-planned Ukrainian counteroffensive that U.S. officials said may have begun this week. Flood-affected communities are calling for large amounts of fuel, water and vehicles — all components that are also essential for military operations — while national guard soldiers are helping with disaster relief.

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